How to Save Our Asses in Short Order: Activism, Hacktivism and Activist Investors

Last week was a dark week despite the continual blasting of heat from the sun and bright blue skies, but that’s part of the problem isn’t? If you’re not frying like an egg in one part of the planet, you might be wondering if you have the aptitude for boat building. I couldn’t find any positive environmental-related news last week. Instead, it ended up a long session of what kids these days call “Doom Scrolling.”

Each article making me more angry, sad and frustrated. I’ve always operated in a morally gray area. If you take a psychology class chances are you’ve encountered “the Trolley Problem.” In short, you’re standing at the track switch and you see an out of control trolley going towards five people who are tied up and can’t move. If you flip the switch you can save them, but you’ll kill one person on the other track.

Photo by Alex Azabache on Pexels.com

I’ve always been trained to do the most amount of good with the least amount of damage. I would flip the switch, but I’d also make a run of that one person. We don’t have details on how fast the trolley is going or how far you are, but I’d try to make a run for it anyways. If nothing else, I would serve as a distraction, maybe that helps? Maybe I do get to the person in time and get them completely or mostly off the track. If they lose their leg(s), but keep their life I’d still call that a win. Honestly, this question could have many more variable factors in it, I suggest you not think about it too long unless you’re aiming for a truly depressive state of mind. So why am I bringing it up?

Because maybe if we maintained the flippin’ trolley in the first place we wouldn’t be put in such a moral dilemma! The trolley is our planet. We are already standing at the switch and the track is the degree to which we let human-caused emissions raise the global temperature. We do not all have an equal amount of leverage though. Developed Nations have more leverage, Corporations have more leverage and the Ultra-Rich have more leverage.

We are all beholden to them on if they choose to act on climate change, how they choose to act on climate change and when and how fast they do it. I don’t like them having so much leverage. Do you? I feel that some of these people are so incompetent they’d have such an uncontrolled, oversized trolley taking out all six people and a couple of puppies and kittens to boot!

WHAT CAN WE DO!

We need to pull out our wrenches and chocks (wedges used to prevent vehicles from moving) and get to work. We need to change the system, disrupt the system. Peacefully and strategically. The Ultra-Rich think they can buy up mansions in places like New Zealand and other believed-to-be “climate Havens”, we need to give them some smelling salt to wake the fluff up! There is no safe place from a seriously angry planet.

Money talks, that’s why the Ultra-Rich and everyone else is so keen to hold onto it. So, it was a brilliant maneuver when the activist hedge fund, Engine No.1, secured three seats on Exxon Mobil’s board of directors. First, they had to have enough capital and stakeholder assets to be qualified to make the board. This required convincing a few key stakeholders to back them up, BlackRock and the California State Teacher’s Retirement System. While holding three seats on the board doesn’t give them majority rule on what the oil giant does, they do have an opportunity to present proposals and lean into the idea of working towards renewable energy services.

It’s unfathomable how many opportunities we’ve missed to improve the energy and technology sectors over the decades due to gross misuse of anti-competitive practices within these and other key industries. Certain companies have been buying up patents and smaller “asset companies” for years only to bury them deep in the dark recesses of filing cabinets. Why? Because the patent or intellectual property of that company threatened the profitability of a mega corporation that wasn’t interested in changing its business practices. I can’t give you names or evidence here, because this kind of information gets carefully scrubbed from search engines and this humble web keeper doesn’t have the resources to go picking fights with C Corps right now. 404 – Files not Found.

Karnataka Protest Poster, Karnataka Water Rights Coalition, Bengaluru (Bangalore) 2004, Melanie Reynolds

Activism  How do you define Activism? Holding up a sign in protest is only one form of activism. Other ways include using your purchasing power to support companies and organizations that make a commitment to the things you believe in. It can be writing to a company to tell them you like and support their sustainability issues and that you, as a customer, are taking notice. You can also write to companies you won’t support and tell them, why you don’t support them (ie wasteful packaging, high CO2 output.)

Hacktivism You’ve heard of computer hackers and life hacks. Hacking in itself isn’t a bad thing. There used to be a distinction between “Hackers” and “Crackers.” Crackers are typically “the black hats” that want to steal your money or information for takedowns and sabotage. Hackers are testers, they want to find out how things works or test their skills. A “White hat” hacker will find exploits and notifies the appropriate person so it can be fixed. Anyone at any age can be a hacker. Don’t let Hollywood fool you into thinking its just lonely, acne-infested, teenage boys. My Grandma would have been a great hacker! So what’s hacktivism? The “Trolley problem” above as an example: The cracker steals the wheels of the trolley. The Hacker figures out how the trolley works. The White hat Hacker figures out how the trolley works, see that the brake is broken and notify the appropriate authorities. If the hacker also like knots, maybe they could go down and untie those people on the tracks while they’re at it!

Spy vs Spy, MAD Magazine comic strip By Antonio Prohias

Activist Investors Let your money do the talking. Move your assets into ESG (Environmental, Social Governmental) funds or active Sustainability funds. You choose whether to be an active or passive investor. There are a lot of online resources and most of the biggest investment firms now have some sort of ESG portfolio to varying degrees.

I just bought a book fresh of the press that has me really excited about doing this. I’m only in the first chapter so far. Let me know in the comments if you want a book review when I’ve completed it. It’s called “Activate Your Money: Invest to Grow Your Wealth And Build A Better World By Janine Firpo”

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

Links:

How the Economy Has to Radically Transform to End Fossil Fuels in 20 Years (vice.com) or

The U.N. IPCC climate change report is bleak but hopeful. (slate.com)

Trolley problem – Wikipedia

Exxon Mobil Defeated by Activist Investor Engine No. 1 – The New York Times (nytimes.com)

Secret IRS Files Reveal How Much the Ultrawealthy Gained by Shaping Trump’s “Big, Beautiful Tax Cut” — ProPublica

There’s No Such Thing as a ‘Climate Haven’ – Bloomberg

Yes, the ultra-rich are still buying NZ$80m homes (in case you were wondering) | Stuff.co.nz (May 8,2020)

Silicon Valley Moguls Buying $8 Million Doomsday Bunkers in New Zealand (businessinsider.com) (Sep 6, 2018)

Anti-competitive practices – Wikipedia

How Google Search Results Are Being Manipulated By Shady Online Reputation Consultants (buzzfeednews.com)

https://blog.malwarebytes.com/101/2021/06/white-hat-black-hat-grey-hat-hackers-whats-the-difference/

Firestorm, 1991

When I was sixteen my father and I nearly died in a wildfire.

When I was four, he bought twenty-seven acres outside of town. At night, in a field among the forests, it felt like space could devour you. Very few lights dotted the landscape back then. Now when I go back there are so many lights I can hardly see the stars.

We started in a used single wide trailer. Two years later the concrete was poured and the first timbers went up. My dad worked long hours at a meat packing plant with a 45-mintue commute. I lived in the city with my mom during the week. On the weekends, I was a wild child out at my dad’s house. He bartered and traded for goods and services to get the house built. Family and friends came out to help with whatever skills they could bring to the effort. It created a festive atmosphere having so many people around. My grandpa, my great grandpa, my grandmother, my great aunt and uncle, some family friends and occasionally my childhood friend and her parents too. I loved growing up “under construction.” When the scaffolding went up three stories high, I turned into a monkey. When my grandma would give me food I would stuff it in my pockets or have a sandwich hanging out of my mouth as I scurried up to the highest scaffolding board to eat. I also liked throwing carrot chunks at my older brother, because he was too afraid to climb so high.

One of my favorite family friends was a survivor of Auschwitz. He lost his whole family including a wife. He remarried a fellow survivor after they were freed. That’s all I know of his story. He was a kind, soft-spoken man, and an excellent master bricklayer, just like my great grandfather. Every time I see the bricks in “soldier pattern” (standing vertical) over the main doorway, I think of him. The rest of the house was built of wood.

The house grew and now it’s very large. You might consider it a mansion, one that took nearly forty years to build. Wildfires have come and gone over the years, but they never come close enough for us to really worry, until 1991. What would become locally known as, “Firestorm 1991.” It’s a lot like what the Bootleg fire in Oregon appears to be becoming now, multiple fires driven by high winds.

We got blocked on three sides, one of them curving like a half moon that eventually cutoff our escape route. My Stepmom, Stepsister, and Stepbrother got out in time. My stepsiblings were just little kids at the time. My stepsister cried, begging us to come too. I wanted to go, but I wouldn’t without my dad. I thought if I stayed with him, he would see reason. I thought I could get him to go, for me. By the time I felt I had convinced him it; it was too late to leave. The firefighters had come. They told us to evacuate. They themselves were pulling out and right after they left trees fell as if closing a door behind them.

I filled the bathtub with water, so I felt like I had a choice between burning or drowning. I was angry and sad that we hadn’t left with the rest of the family, but I understood too. I knew how much the house means to my dad. How much it means to me. Many beloved hands shaped the walls, drove the nails, and mudded the cracks in the sheetrock. When I visit, I run my hands along the walls. Hierth, you can never go home.

The night was long. The glow of the fire was so bright when you closed your eyes, you still saw the fire through your eyelids. There was nowhere to hide. We paced around like angry cats. We patrolled the windows as they started turning black with soot. The hose and buckets positioned by the doors. Our water was drawn by a well and the closest fire was nearly upon the pump house. Then the fire turned and battled the other for fuel. They consumed each other before us. There was not enough tinder between the both of them and they burned each other out. I would have cried if I’d had enough moisture left for tears. I thought I might cry table salt instead; my eyes were so crusty.

We survived. The house still stands today. The wood exterior has been covered with stone. The roof has been replaced with tiles. I still can’t help but think of it as a giant brick oven though. I can’t live out there no more. Every year I worry about my dad. Every year I track the fires. I live roughly five hours away, but if I move like a low flying aircraft and I don’t stop to pee, I can make it in three.

I don’t just follow “our fires,” I track everyone’s fires. My own version of Nihilism perhaps, but I also think Fire Science is interesting. Sometimes, I cry tears for others I couldn’t cry for myself. I know their pain. Most recently it was for the people of Lytton, BC.

The problem isn’t just one thing, it’s a multitude of things. Yes, it’s more people moving out to rural areas. Yes, it’s years of suppressing natural fires. It’s over regulated in some ways and under regulated in other ways. It’s bad planning. It’s greed. It’s global warming.

We could be more strategic in how we manage fires and how we plan our communities. The Camp Fire in California in 2018 showed just how dangerous one of our most popular housing development layouts can be. It’s typically a selling feature to live on a dead end street, until you can’t escape in an emergency due to you and your neighbors trying to flee at once creating a chokehold. We have to rebalance and recalibrate, the natural environment with the built environment. We can save ourselves, save the trees, and animal lives with lower intensity fires. Fire isn’t always bad. Regenerative fires help create lower intensity fires and healthier forests and fields for future generations.

Additional Links:

Firestorm 1991 – Aug. 21, 2015 | The Spokesman-Review

‘Most homes’ in Lytton, B.C., destroyed by catastrophic fire, minister says | CBC News (This link includes a video of a guy who describes just how hard it is to make the decision whether to leave or stay during a wildfire. This fire occurred earlier this month at the beginning of July 2021.)

Have you ever been affected by wildfire?

Intuition Tells You Where You Need to Be

This is not the official post of the week, but a tangent, because I have to tell you about my day! As I had mentioned in a previous post, my friend and co-pilot on this blog, Patricia Lezama, recently moved out of state, but today we got to see each other! At first, I was determined to rush through my chores. Then I felt determined to make a necklace for her. Yes, silly I know! I haven’t made anyone a necklace in two decades!?!?! Now I must suddenly do one now? Okay.

I delayed our meetup and made what I came to consider the “fire necklace.” One of my bead batches wasn’t very good. I had to hunt for good beads. This took me twice as long to make the necklace.

Fire Necklace By Melanie Reynolds

Finally meet up and had lunch! It was at least two hours later than I had originally planned. As we finished, I witnessed an older woman fall and roll. I said, “We need to go help this lady.” So we walked over and the lady couldn’t get up. A man stopped and got out of his car. We agreed that he should call an ambulance. The lady was very brave, despite being in pain. It quickly became clear that she had broken her hip. She did her best to be calm and cheerful for her granddaughter, who was about 10 or 11 years old.

The granddaughter also did a great job remaining calm and giving information when her grandmother couldn’t. The ambulance arrived quickly because the Fire department was only a few blocks away. We assisted the paramedics to get the lady on the stretcher.

As there was nothing left for us to do, it was time to leave, but I was happy. I felt like I was where I was meant to be. I almost always listen to my intuition, no matter how silly it sounds sometimes. Every single time I do, fate puts me where I’m needed most. I have advanced first aid training and right before the pandemic I received my certification to “Train the Trainers” (Program Coordinator) for Community Emergency Response Team (CERT). CERT is a group of volunteers from the community that learn what to do during wide scale emergencies like Earthquakes and other natural disasters. We come from different ethnic, religious, economic, political backgrounds, ages, skills and abilities in the service of community. We’re the active helpers. Our diversity makes us stronger! Together we can speak many languages and respect the traditions of those who have strict religious or cultural beliefs.

I’ll be honest, I’m kind of a control freak. I train and train and train so that I can make myself useful in almost any situation. I like to think of it as a way to leverage anxiety. When I know what to do and how to do it there’s no room for anxiety. We strangers came together in that moment. We created an atmosphere of calm support. It was not a situation anyone wanted to be in, but we made the best of it.

I know the pandemic is not over. It’s really the last thing any disaster preparedness geek wants to deal with. In my career I’ve written several Health & Safety, Disaster Preparedness, & Policy & Procedures manuals for large institutions. I can tell you that the section on “Pandemics” has been at best maybe two paragraphs, a page or two if you fill in with extra words. What was I supposed to write? “In the middle of a pandemic please avoid people like the plague?” It’s hard for people like me to see a need and have to step aside.

So, while I feel terrible that the lady’s outing with her granddaughter didn’t turn out the way they had hoped, I’m grateful I was there. I’m grateful that it was something familiar and that I could help. I’ve often felt useless since the start of the pandemic. Like a racehorse waiting for the gate to open. I won’t let the experience of it go to waste though. Next time I write or revise a disaster preparedness manual I’ll have a lot more to say on pandemics!

I would like to encourage everyone reading this to get basic first aid training. If not through a local program, then watch some YouTube videos, search term, “Basic First Aid.” When you know what to do it feels a lot less scary.

Finally, If you do find yourself in a situation where someone needs emergency aid and you don’t have any training, it’s okay. Empathy and support can go a long way.  Ask them, “How can I help?” They can usually tell you, sometimes they can’t, that’s okay too. Keeping them conscious, talking and calm is a great way to help.

Stay safe friends!


The information below is directly from the FEMA website: Community Emergency Response Team | Ready.gov:

CERT History

The CERT concept was developed and implemented by the Los Angeles City Fire Department in 1985. The Whittier Narrows earthquake in 1987 underscored the area-wide threat of a major disaster in California. Further, it confirmed the need for training civilians to meet their immediate needs.

CERT became a national program in 1993. There are now CERT programs in all 50 states, including many tribal nations and U.S. territories. Each is unique to its community and all are essential to building a Culture of Preparedness in the United States. There are over 2,700 local CERT programs nationwide and more than 600,000 people have trained since CERT became a national program.



I imagine there must be programs like this in other countries. Like the “White Hats” in Syria.

Does your country have a program like this? If so, What is it called?